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“Game of Thrones,” a monumental television series of the 21st century, captivates audiences not just through its tales of political intrigue, violence, and fantasy but also through its intricate attention to cultural details. Among these, the creation of unique languages stands as a testament to the show’s commitment to crafting a vivid and believable world.
In the realm of fantasy fiction, the invention of languages often serves as a cornerstone in building a convincing and immersive universe.
“Game of Thrones,” along with its prequel “House of the Dragon,” excels in this aspect, offering viewers a glimpse into diverse cultures through the lens of language. Unlike J.R.R. Tolkien, who meticulously crafted languages for “The Lord of the Rings,” George R. R. Martin provided only a foundation of phrases for the languages in “A Song of Ice and Fire.” This groundwork paved the way for linguist David Peterson to develop the rich linguistic tapestry of Dothraki and Valyrian languages that enrich the “Game of Thrones” series.
The Significance of Language in Westeros and Essos
In “Game of Thrones,” the languages spoken by the characters do more than just facilitate communication; they reveal histories, cultures, and identities. Westeros, the primary setting for much of the series, is dominated by the Common Tongue, akin to English. Introduced by the Andals during their invasion, this language mirrors the historical linguistic evolution seen in the British Isles. The Old Tongue, primarily spoken by Wildlings beyond the Wall, represents the linguistic diversity and history of Westeros, much like ancient Germanic runes.
In Essos, the linguistic landscape is even more varied. High Valyrian, once the dominant language of a great empire, now serves as a language of the educated elite, similar to Latin in medieval Europe. Its decline gave rise to Low Valyrian, a group of dialects that evolved in the Free Cities, each distinct yet interconnected, much like the Romance languages derived from Latin.
The Dothraki language, created for the nomadic tribes of Essos’s central plains, draws inspiration from real-world languages like Russian and Arabic, reflecting the lifestyle and culture of its speakers.
Example: Hash yer dothrae chek? — Literally “Do you ride well?”, meaning “How are you?”
Creating Realism Through Fictional Languages
The creation of these languages is not merely a fanciful addition but a tool for enhancing the depth and realism of the “Game of Thrones” universe. Peterson’s meticulous work in developing languages like Dothraki and High Valyrian involved crafting grammatical rules, vocabulary, and even writing systems. This attention to linguistic detail provides viewers with a more immersive experience, allowing them to feel the authenticity of the diverse cultures within the show.
The languages of “Game of Thrones” also serve a narrative purpose, adding layers to character development and plot progression. For instance, Daenerys Targaryen’s use of High Valyrian reveals her heritage and education, while the distinct dialects of Low Valyrian spoken by characters like Grey Worm highlight the cultural complexities of Essos. The languages of the White Walkers and the mysterious lands of Asshai and Qarth, though less explored, add an element of mystique and otherworldliness to the story.
The invented languages of “Game of Thrones” are not just a creative endeavor but a vital component of the show’s storytelling and world-building. They provide viewers with a sense of authenticity and depth, enriching the narrative and allowing for a more engaging and immersive experience. As “Game of Thrones” continues to spawn spinoffs and sequels, the legacy of its languages will undoubtedly continue to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.
Why were constructed languages created for Game of Thrones?
Constructed languages, or conlangs, were created for Game of Thrones to add depth and authenticity to the fictional world. While George R. R. Martin’s books mentioned different languages, the TV series needed a way to portray them realistically. Rather than using heavily accented English or gibberish, the show’s creators opted for fully developed conlangs to enhance the immersive experience.
Who developed the Dothraki language, and how did they create it?
The Dothraki language was developed by David J. Peterson, a linguist and co-founder of the Language Creation Society. He won a contest held by HBO and the Language Creation Society to create Dothraki. Peterson took an anthropological approach, considering the history, geography, and culture of the Dothraki people. He meticulously crafted Dothraki with functional grammar and a vocabulary of nearly 2,000 words.
Are there any interesting linguistic details about the Common Tongue in Game of Thrones?
The Common Tongue, spoken by most of Westeros, shares similarities with English. It was introduced by the Andals during their invasion of Westeros, much like the historical invasion of the British Isles. Over time, it developed into a lingua franca, spoken by many even outside of Westeros, similar to English in our world. This evolution adds depth to the linguistic history of Westeros.
What is the significance of High Valyrian in the Game of Thrones universe?
High Valyrian was once the dominant language in Essos but declined after the fall of the Valyrian realm. House Targaryen, the last dragonlord family, continued to speak High Valyrian. It is used as a lore-language by scholars throughout Essos and Westeros, similar to how Latin is used in our world. High Valyrian has over 5,000 words and a grammatical gender system, making it a rich and complex language.
How does Low Valyrian differ from High Valyrian, and where is it spoken?
Low Valyrian emerged in former Valyrian colonies without central influence. It’s a family of dialects, with each Free City having its variant. Slaver’s Bay also has its variant called Ghiscari. These dialects can be partly mutually unintelligible, akin to Romance languages evolving from Latin. Grey Worm, commander of the Unsullied, is a prominent speaker of Low Valyrian, and it adds diversity to the linguistic landscape of Essos.
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